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Why Tom Burke’s Green Deal Is Pie In The Sky

May 21, 2020

By Paul Homewood

Environmentalist Tom Burke has just written this article for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainable Energy:


One of the hardest truths about the pandemic, which so abruptly cancelled everyone’s future plans is that, even now, we do not fully understand what this means. Despite a colossal global effort we are still some way from being confident of being able to ensure public health as we release people from the disciplines of lockdown.

It is also true that we do not yet know the full extent of the pandemic’s damage to our economy. We do know that it is deep, potentially deeper than that of the financial crisis of 2008. We also know that recovery will not be quick and we are all being unwillingly inducted into the arcana of ‘V’, ‘U’ and ‘L’ shaped recoveries.

Understandably, the speed, scale, and malignity with which this coronavirus struck has driven other issues from the headlines. Neither politicians nor the public have much residual attention to pay to climate change. This time last year it was dominating the headlines as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion gave powerful expression to growing public anxiety about the future of the climate.

Through the fog of uncertainties that currently surrounds us, one thing at least remains certain. The build-up of carbon in the atmosphere is continuing to change the climate. The abrupt pause in the relentless growth of the global economy will produce a welcome 7% reduction in carbon emissions – about what we need to achieve each year to keep the climate safe.

But, as Chris Stark, the CEO of the Climate Change Committee points out, all that means is that we have turned down the tap. Carbon is still pouring into the atmosphere, just more slowly. Meanwhile, without attracting much public attention, it is becoming clearer that the impacts of climate change on our wellbeing will be sooner and greater than previously thought.

We are having a brutal lesson in the vulnerability of a global economy that supports nearly eight billion people to disruption. But this disruption is marginal compared to the havoc that failing to build the carbon neutral energy system a safe climate requires will produce. The viral disruption was a sudden and visible shock that commanded, and got, an immediate response. Climate change is a stealth disrupter – concealing its harm until it is too late to prevent – and all the more dangerous for that.

Having tackled the immediate Covid-19 health emergency, political attention is now turning to restoring the health of the economy.

This will require a huge and sustained effort if it is to succeed.

The first priority will be to restore the purchasing power central to the momentum of our consumption driven economy. As has already become evident, this will require an appetite for public borrowing unlike any previously experienced outside of war. Dealing with the resultant debt will put a premium on improving productivity.

It is no more than common sense to ensure that as we restore the economy to health now, we do not also restore momentum to burning fossil fuels and so make future climate disruption worse. Disruption does not have a discount factor. Governments can borrow money more cheaply than anyone else. The current Government has, to its credit, remained staunchly committed to its target of decarbonising the economy by 2050. It now needs to back that commitment with serious amounts of rapidly deployed public spending.

Lockdown has so far led to reduced income for 68% of households and led to a growing struggle to pay their bills. At the same time, the construction industry has had the highest rate of layoffs in any sector following lockdown and one of the highest rates of use of the Government’s job retention scheme. It also has one of the lowest levels of confidence in companies surviving the pandemic.

Accelerating the stalled drive to improve the energy efficiency of our inefficient building stock would bring a double whammy of purchasing power benefits.

It would generate incomes by employing large number of people in construction, widely distributed around the country, more rapidly than other public investments, especially if local authorities were significantly engaged. It would also lower energy bills for households thus increasing disposable income. There is growing evidence that this results in persistent increases in spending on higher value local goods and services.

Our current electricity system has some 90GW of installed generating capacity. During the coldest half hour last year demand peaked at about 55GW. For long periods of the year and a third of every day, it barely reaches 40GW. For most of the year, therefore, most of our expensive generating capacity is earning no revenues and is thus a drag on the productivity of our economy.

A smart redesign of our electricity system to take full advantage of the falling costs of renewables and the huge increases in our capability to balance electricity supply and demand made possible by digitisation would improve productivity.

A rapid ramping-up of both onshore and offshore wind deployment would also accelerate the growth of a new industrial base to replace that being lost from the oil and gas industry.

Applying common sense to our post pandemic economic recovery will ensure that we do not turn the solution to one painful disruption into a contribution to an even greater and much more painful disruption.

Tom Burke is the Co-Founder and Chairman of E3G and Chairman of the China Dialogue Trust.


He makes two arguments:

1) Employ an army of construction workers to retrofit insulation

Leaving aside the question of where these workers will come from and how they will be trained, Burke ignores the very real problem, that somebody has to pay for their work.

He claims that the government can borrow cheaply, but how long will that last if it has to borrow trillions more to finance the green agenda. In any event, the money borrowed still has to be paid back sooner or later.

It is self evident that his claimed energy bill savings do not stack up, otherwise householders would be queuing up to fit insulation.

He also conveniently forgets to mention that low carbon solutions for heating will add considerably to household bills.

2) Build more wind farms

This is a classic example of somebody trying to mould the facts to his pre-conceived agenda.

According to the official data, there was actually 105GW of generating capacity at the end of last year in the UK:


As Burke rightly states, this is much more than we actually need. Yet he uses this fact to argue that we build yet more wind farms.

There is a simple reason why we have too much capacity – the fact that we have built 38GW of unrequired wind and solar power on the back of obscene subsidies.

He implies that we should shut down most of our conventional capacity. In the real world, that Burke clearly does not understand, the National Grid still needs 50GW of reliable, dispatchable power, as standby for when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

And his answer to that little problem? A smart redesign of our electricity system to take full advantage of the huge increases in our capability to balance electricity supply and demand made possible by digitisation.

What planet is he on? Digitisation?

If there is any expensive generating capacity that is surplus to requirements, it is wind and solar power. Yet he wants even more!


We are used to this sort of uninformed nonsense from eco loons such as Burke. But the worrying thing is that MPs are taking him seriously.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2020 6:40 pm

    “Applying common sense” – if only. Total absence of it in all public policy on climate and virus.

  2. Peter F Gill permalink
    May 21, 2020 7:18 pm

    Tom B is a well meaning chap but his approach on energy policy has been wrong for decades and I don’t just mean his opposition to nuclear power. He would do well to read a number of books on my book list “Books that tell a different story”, which reminds me that I should put out my latest version (Rev 12) on the internet, especially as I am currently preparing Rev 13!

    • Jonathan Scott permalink
      May 21, 2020 7:42 pm

      I wonder what Patric Moore would have to say about him. No mention of his education on Wiki, working for BeeePeee and RioT does not say anything either. he is another one of those who likes the sound of his own voice.

  3. May 21, 2020 7:21 pm

    “one thing at least remains certain. The build-up of carbon in the atmosphere is continuing to change the climate.” There is no need to read anything further from this cretin, who clearly knows nothing about science or engineering.

    You only have to read wiki to find out his background:

    • May 21, 2020 7:25 pm

      I see he has a BA in philosophy, so I was correct about his lack of knowledge of science and engineering.

      • sensferguson permalink
        May 21, 2020 9:06 pm

        . In 1993, Burke was appointed to United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour. Says it all really.

      • May 21, 2020 10:28 pm

        “The abrupt pause in the relentless growth of the global economy will produce a welcome 7% reduction in carbon emissions – about what we need to achieve each year to keep the climate safe …
        … this disruption is marginal compared to the havoc that failing to build the carbon neutral energy system a safe climate requires will produce”.

        Those comments betray a medieval even primitive mind on a par with a belief in sorcery and witchcraft.
        Alex Epstein (I think) coined the apt epigram: ‘fossil fuels don’t make a safe climate dangerous, they help make a dangerous climate safer’.

    • Jonathan Scott permalink
      May 21, 2020 7:27 pm

      Certainly physics and geology! But read the absolute certainty and conviction with which he glibly throws around totally unsubstantiated and physics free garbage as if somehow a person of knowledge, quoting another untroubled by science moron as if group think makes you clever!

      • Ariane permalink
        May 21, 2020 8:21 pm

        …physics free garbage…Excellent

    • Peter F Gill permalink
      May 21, 2020 7:35 pm

      Yes Philip. One wrong assumption after another and no difference noticed between carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide nor carbon in any of its forms. Tom is not a rare diamond. I wonder if he has noticed that the Mauna Loa data shows no reduction in gradient at present. That is of course unless someone decides the data is wrong and needs adjusting for a lower atmospheric CO2 content!

      • Jonathan Scott permalink
        May 21, 2020 7:47 pm

        Well, the ahem, “adjustment” precedent has been well used in other areas of this “science”. I wonder when real science will find it’s voice because he and his ilk are proclaiming the end of the Enlightenment, when data not words changed the world.

    • John Palmer permalink
      May 21, 2020 8:47 pm

      A read through the Wiki page makes you want to cry/puke/despair at how these people manage to get their views into the MSM as ‘science’ without ever being challenged.

  4. Jonathan Scott permalink
    May 21, 2020 7:24 pm

    Please can we set an example here and educate morons like this that it is NOT Carbon but Carbon Dioxide that the fiction is being created about. I also am in awe of the glib certainty with which this moron throws in the link between carbon “DIOXIDE” and climate change, something which the IPCC has NEVER proven. There is NO statistically significant empirical data of any kind to support the assertion. The IPCC started off from a belief and has continued producing its WRONG models now for 30 years or more based on a belief and the false assumption that CO2 is on its own causing warming and 2. that man is totally responsible for that. To say that to follow such a course from the outset and claim scientific authority is a fraud and an affront to the dignity of any sentient being.

  5. Devoncel permalink
    May 21, 2020 7:51 pm

    Philip – It’s obvious that his motivation is political and thus shapes his opinions and activities likewise. As you remark there is nothing scientific, nor for that matter engineering in his background. You can spot his type a mile off – they avoid debating what works and promote of what they would like.

  6. Harry Passfield permalink
    May 21, 2020 8:00 pm

    Saved me saying it, Jonathan. Anyone claiming it’s ‘carbon’ is an imbecile.

  7. Harry Passfield permalink
    May 21, 2020 8:21 pm

    BTW: I gave the NHS my support in the early days for two claps. Am I alone in thinking that the weekly ‘homage’ is getting just a little too reverential? – as Hitchens said: ‘totalitarian’?
    I know from bitter experience that the NHS (we’re talking about the whole here, not those supporting Covid-sufferers) has failed my family (fatally) many, many times. I am happy to recognise the dedication and bravery of Covid nurses but, having built (at what expense?) Nightingale hospitals, the fact that we now can’t access our major local hospital because it is committed to CV patients (instead of shipping them to the closed Nightingale) means that non-CV patients will suffer.
    I happily give the CV nursing staff a round of applause, but the PHE executives only deserve the clap.
    And when it comes to the tracking App, NHS should be the NiHS: The Not invented Here Syndrome.

  8. Peter F Gill permalink
    May 21, 2020 8:32 pm

    The very last thing we want here is a conflation between the faulted AGW and the as yet unknown story of so called Covid-19 and all that NHS stuff. I have seen what happens on blogs when other non-relevant topics get mixed together. So Harry I will pass on your contribution.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 21, 2020 8:59 pm

      Pass on to whom. Peter?

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        May 21, 2020 9:01 pm

        Ahh…I misunderstood your use of the word ‘Pass’.

      • Peter F Gill permalink
        May 22, 2020 8:58 am

        I guess we were both fooled by English usage – a bit like “Eats Shoots and Leaves” which, by the way, is a great little book!

  9. Ariane permalink
    May 21, 2020 8:35 pm

    The IPCC did not ‘believe’ it. Dr.Ben Santer deliberately drew a computer model showing a human fingerprint of CO2 causing global atmospheric warming. There was no ‘belief’, it was deliberate and created, a lie by scientists at the IPCC so that they could keep authority (and funding) over events rapidly being controlled by anti-industry enrionmentalist fanatics supported by catastrophe-seeking media..

  10. sensferguson permalink
    May 21, 2020 9:11 pm

    It would be nice if the world of science followed the Apollo Mission Motto – in God we trust, for everything else we need data!

  11. May 21, 2020 9:19 pm

    “Meanwhile, without attracting much public attention, it is becoming clearer that the impacts of climate change on our wellbeing will be sooner and greater than previously thought”

    “Greater than previously thought” does not mean you were even more right than previously thought. It means you were wrong. And that means that you don’t really know the climate well enough to make predictions or to make evaluations like “Climate change is a stealth disrupter – concealing its harm until it is too late to prevent – and all the more dangerous for that”.

    It means you are a fearmonger with outrageous claims but without useful information.

  12. May 22, 2020 2:39 am

    If Tom happens to read this blog I refer him to this list of weather events 1700 -1849 when the atmospheric CO2 concentration was ~270 ppm and the climate was ‘safe’:
    (British Weather from 1700 to 1849).

  13. Peter F Gill permalink
    May 22, 2020 9:07 am

    You may not be a robot but it seems that you are close to one by passing on very questionable “proxy” information about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the period 1700 – 1849. You really do need to read some of my friend’s papers on the subject of ice cores. Just do a search including Zbigniew Jaworowski and ice cores. Nevertheless we are in your debt for the weather information in the link. Thanks.

    • May 22, 2020 1:59 pm

      Yeah I’ve come across Jaworowski’s CO2 reconstructions before:

      Nonetheless your comment is irrelevant to the point I was making, thanks all the same.

      • Peter F Gill permalink
        May 22, 2020 3:41 pm

        Yes ZJ allowed me to use that slide in a lecture I gave (I think in 2009) at Imperial College. The circled data was the only data Guy Callendar used in his version of a chart of atmospheric CO2 versus time. Talk about cherry picking!

  14. CheshireRed permalink
    May 22, 2020 9:29 am

    Insulating homes – the costs would far outweigh any potential savings on fuel bills, thus it’s pointless. We know this as a FACT because Ed Davey tried a similar ‘Green Deal’ scheme a while back in the coalition government. Needless to say public uptake was tiny precisely because the numbers didn’t stack up, and it was a financial disaster.

    Going ‘renewable’ – Can Tom explain how spending billions on a system that generates higher fuel bills will turbo-charge the economy? Firstly it’s obviously counter-productive and secondly it would negate any theoretical savings from his genius plans to insulate our way back to prosperity. Even if ‘renewables’ shaved a few % off annual fuel bills (and they won’t because they haven’t done so yet on existing bills, which have only gone up) any such saving would be dwarfed by CapX repayment costs.

    Like ALL ‘green’ initiatives’ these ideas are driven by financially illiterate green ideology. It’s absolutely crackers, so expect Tom’s recommendations to be adopted in full!

    • Peter F Gill permalink
      May 22, 2020 11:10 am

      I prefer white Cheshire myself having been born in Wallasey, which at the time was still in Cheshire. Anyway CR you could have also referred to the other big failures in the insulation scheme of which Grenfell Tower is perhaps the most notorious. The inquiry is of course trying its best to distance government energy policy from the disaster as far as possible and so far they have got away with it. Of course the “remainers” did not want it to get out that European rules trumped the more appropriate UK ones but that is another story.

  15. Vernon E permalink
    May 22, 2020 11:10 am

    I know that I have posted this before but I don’t agree, Paul, that residential property insulation doesn’t pay – it most certainly does. Problem is that the Building Regulation is that there must be two courses of bricks showing below the DPC – and on 90% plus of older houses this is’nt the case. The contractors simply refuse to carry out the work if this criterion isn’t met.

  16. Alan Haile permalink
    May 22, 2020 11:39 am

    Burke and his friend Chris Starkravingmad are two reasons for despairing the future of this country.

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